the musical chess is a musical written by Tim Rice
and the male half of ABBA
. Takes place in the 1980's
during the cold war
and is alla bout love
The World Chess Championship is about to take place in Merano, a Tirolean town in north Italy. The
champion (The American, in his mid-thirties) is defending his title against a new challenger (The Russian,
in his early forties). The people of Merano are by and large very enthusiastic about the great eve3n that
is taking place in their small community. The American is enthusiastic about the potential financial
rewards of the match and about his own skill at bringing what has hitherto been a minority interest sport
to the frenzied attention of the world media.
The American gives a press conference at his hotel at which he behaves petulantly and aggressively,
denouncing his opponent, every other Soviet and the press with equal vigor. His performance is watched
on television by the Russian and his KGB-employed second, Molokov, in their hotel. Molokov is
inclined to dismiss the American as a nut. The Russian concedes that his opponent is eccentric, but
realizes that every outrageous move made by the American is a calculated one. The Russian reflects
upon his own rise to the top.
The Opening Ceremony is a hugely colorful event. Merano has pulled out all the stops. The Arbiter of
the match points out with great gusto that his word is final during the series of games while the
Merchandisers, Press, Politicians, Businessmen, and Diplomats all struggle to get everything they can
from the excitement building up to fever pitch around the contest.
The American stages an effective and insulting walkout during the Arbiter's lengthy recap of the match
regulations immediately after the Opening Ceremony. None are more insulted than his own second,
Florence Vassy, who is left to defend her player's indefensible behavior to a sneering and pompously
protesting Molokov. During this exchange, she meets the Russian player for the first time. The Russian
shows some sympathy for her situation. The Arbiter continues to prattle on about the rules.
Florence confronts the American back at their hotel, telling him that she cannot tolerate his treatment of
her much longer. We learn that she was born in Hungary, left that country when only two with her
mother in 1956, during the uprising, and is now a naturalized British citizen. She has never discovered
what happened to her father who 'disappeared' when the Hungarian uprising was crushed. She is
determined to find out. She has worked for the American for seven years, since meeting him during a
chess tournament in England. We suspect their relationship is almost like that of mother and child,
although both are around the same age. Their argument reinforces the belief that the only person she can
ever really rely on is herself.
The first game of the contest begins with an atmosphere of mutual loathing hanging over the proceedings
as the two players make their first moves. Tension builds as much offboard as on with both men
resorting to underhand tactics to distract or enrage the other. Suddenly, high drama as the two players
fling the board up in the air. They walk out after coming near to blows. Consternation everywhere.
Florence and Molokov have an unofficial meeting to discuss the collapse of the match, which no one
really wants to abandon. After some spirited insult-trading, Florence takes the initiative and tells
Molokov where and when he is to deliver his player for a secret, off the record, meeting between the
two contestants, in order that the match can resume without either party losing face. Molokov attempts
to rattle Florence at one stage by implying that he knows some Hungarian history that she might like to
At a private room in a restaurant halfway up a Merano mountain, Florence and the American arrive for
the secret meeting. The Russian is late and the American leaves the restaurant in mock disgust. Almost at
once the Russian and a junior member of his backup team arrive to find no opponent waiting for them,
only his opponent's second. During the conversation that follows, the Russian and Florence are quickly
attracted to each other, the almost romantic mood rudely interrupted when the American returns.
The American and the Russian argue, trade insults and jokes but thanks largely to Florence's delicate
touch, they both agree on a press statement sharing blame for the breakdown and to resume playing.
Some days later, the American and Florence are discussing the progress of the match. Things are going
badly for the American who is unpleasantly agitated. The cause is all but totally lost. He blames Florence
for his failure and as they hurl abuse at each other, she tells him she is going to leave him after the match,
even if by some miracle he won it. The American is devastated and alternates between fury and pleading
with her to stay. His paranoia about the Reds surfaces - he is convinced the Soviets have something to
do with both his loss of form and Florence's desertion. The finish of his argument is a "squalid little
ending" to their relationship. Even after Florence has left, the American continues to justify his actions to
At an unidentified Western embassy some days later, the Russian, the newly-crowned world chess
champion, asks for political asylum, although he has problems winning the instant support and interest of
the civil servants in the embassy.
Eventually he gets the forms and freedom he wants. Certain he has made the right decision, he is equally
certain of what he will never be able to leave.
One year has passed. The Russian is to defend his title against a new challenger from the Soviet Union in
Bangkok, Thailand. The American an some locals discuss the venue for the championship.
Florence and the Russian, who have been lovers since his defection, are in the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok.
They discuss his new opponent and wonder why the American is in town, as he has played no serious
chess since his defeat in Merano. They also talk about the refusal of the Soviet authorities to let his wife
out of the USSR. The Russian leaves to discuss tactics with his seconds; Florence, alone, speculates
about their future together.
Molokov and his team are confident that this time around they have a player who is totally trustworthy
and can be relied upon (a) to win and (b) to stay in Russia. Their new champion is a rather weird
introvert who only seems to be able to function at full steam when talking or playing chess.
The Russian is interviewed on Thai TV. To his amazement, he discovers that his interviewer is the
American, who proceeds to ask him about his personal life, about Florence, and about his politics -
never about chess. The American finally tells him (on the air) that arrangements have been made to fly
his wife into Bangkok in time for the match. Enraged, the Russian storms out.
The Russian and Florence watch his wife (Svetlana) on television arriving in Bangkok. The event brings
the tension between them to a climax. (Argument) The Russian says he must leave Florence for the
duration of the competition. Florence is left alone with the TV still showing Svetlana's image. She recalls
how well she knows the lover who has just left her. Svetlana recalls how well she knows her husband.
The American forces his way into the Russian's quarters to offer him a deal. Despite the personal
pressures already weighing heavily on the Russian, he has begun the match in great style, winning the first
two games. The American now says that if his winning streak should suddenly come to an end, then
Florence will not be given information he claims to have received from the Soviets about her father. This
information is extremely unpleasant, revealing her father to have been a traitor to his people, not a hero,
responsible for a score of deaths. The Russian does not know whether to believe him or not, but throws
him out. The American then approaches Florence, suggesting that if she would only return to him, not
only would they once again be the greatest chess team ever witnessed, he would also be able to provide
her with news (he does not say whether it is good or bad) she has always wanted about her past. She
too rejects his offer.
His frustration and rejection by Florence cause the American to explode in a fury of self-pity and anger.
The deciding game in the match begins. Memories of former champions are evoked. Molokov and the
American have a conversation which reveals them to have been in league against the Russian, albeit for
very different reasons. Florence, watching the match, although not knowing that her lover has been put
under pressure to lose, sees his obsession with victory destroying his ability to care for her.
The Russian, defying everyone, plays like a dream and annihilates his opponent. He finds himself amused
and delighted by the fact that his various enemies have so misjudged his will to win. He may have failed
in his efforts to sort out his private life but he has succeeded in professional, public life and he knows that
this is the only success he really wants. He rejoices in his victory, but even as the crowds acclaim him
and as his wife vainly attempts to make some kind of contact with him, he almost immediately feels a
sense of hollow anti-climax. He despises himself for the narrow selfish ambitions and desires that satisfy
him. So does Svetlana; any chance of reconciliation between them is gone. They both acknowledge, she
with bitterness, he with resignation, that henceforth their "one true obligation" is to themselves.
Whereas the Russian for the first has been able to put his career before everything else, the change has
gone the other way for the American. He hardly thinks of chess now; only that his machinations have
failed to alleviate his personal despair - Florence will not return to him even if her relationship with the
Russian has foundered. He plans revenge on both Florence and the Russian, while Molokov,
apprehensive about his own future, prepares suitable treatment for his failed protege.
But has that relationship foundered? Florence and the Russian reflect, simultaneously but separately,
upon their story that they thought was a very happy one; like the game of chess the game of love can be
played in an almost limitless number of variations. Perhaps this was just one of many games that end in
stalemate. "Yet we go on pretending, stories like ours have happy endings." As they finish, the American is seen approaching Florence. He has some news for her...
Synopsis appreciated from
the soundtrack linear notes.